The message arrived by mail. My 50th High School Reunion was coming up. Once again the mighty Cougars of Placerville, California’s El Dorado Union High School would roar.
Or at least meow.
Teenage angst, hormonal overload and dreams of glory had long since been dimmed by the realities of life and aging bones. My classmates and I have reached the point where looking back is easier than looking forward.
A Memory Book was being created. What had happened to us since that warm June day in 1961? It was time to sum up our lives in 400 words or less. Should I lie?
Naah. I dutifully begin to put the words down on paper. I found, however, that my mind kept wandering back to what had happened prior to our graduation, during the formative years of our lives. Always on the lookout for blog material, I decided to post a few stories from those years. First up:
Many things influence whom we become. DNA, parents, friends, teachers… it’s a long list. Where we are raised also has to be included. It doesn’t matter where we go in life; our hometown remains our hometown. And this takes me back to Diamond Springs, a small town outside of Placerville.
Sleepy is too lively a word for describing where I lived from 1945 to 1961.
In Old West terminology, Diamond was a two-horse town. There were two grocery stores, two gas stations, two restaurants, two bars, two graveyards and two major places of employment: the Diamond Lime Company and the Caldor Lumber Company.
On the one horse side of the equation there was one church, a barbershop, a hardware store and a grammar school. High school was in far off Placerville, three miles away.
It hadn’t always been quiet. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Diamond was once a major gathering spot for the Maidu Indians and later became a bustling Gold Rush town.
To the Maidu it was Mo-lok’epakan, or, Morning Star’s Spring and a very holy place. Indians came from miles around bearing their dead on litters for cremation. Souls were sent wafting on their way to where ever deceased Maidu went.
Apparently they had been living in the area for a thousand years. It is a sad commentary on both our education system and how we treated the Indians that I grew up in Diamond never hearing the name Morning Star’s Spring much less Mo-lok’epakan. Our only connection with the Maidu’s lost heritage was finding an occasional arrowhead or Indian bead.
Then, in 1848, John Marshall found some shiny yellow baubles in the American River at Sutter’s Mill, 13 miles away. The worlds of the Maidu, California, and Morning Star’s Spring were about to be shattered. “Gold!” went out the cry to Sacramento, across the nation and around the world. Instant wealth was to be had in California and the 49ers were on their way.
They came by boat, wagon, horse and foot… whatever it took. And they came in the thousands from Maine to Georgia, Yankee and Southerner alike. They came from England and Germany and France and China, pouring in from all points of the compass. They left behind their wives, children, mothers, fathers, and half-plowed fields. The chance of ‘striking it rich’ was not to be denied.
Soon the once quiet foothills were alive with the sound of the miners’ picks and shovels punctuated by an occasional gunshot. Towns grew up overnight: Hangtown (Placerville), Sonora, Volcano, Fiddletown, Angels Camp, Grass Valley, Rough and Ready and other legendary communities of the Motherlode.
In 1850 a party of 200 Missourians stopped off at Morning Star’s Spring and decided to stay. Timber was plentiful, the grazing good and a 25-pound nugget of gold was found nearby. Soon there were 18 hotels, stables, a school, churches, doctors, a newspaper, lawyers, vineyards, a blacksmith, some 8000 miners and undoubtedly several unrecorded whorehouses.
Morning’s Star Spring took on a new name, Diamond Springs. The Wells Fargo Stage Company opened an office and the Pony Express made it a stop on its two-year ride to glory.
The town burned down in 1856, 1859 and again in the 1870s. By this time most of the gold had been found and the residents were forced to find other means of gainful employment.
The timber industry came to the rescue in the early 1900s when the California Door Company out of Oakland set up shop in Diamond to handle the timber it was pulling out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Starting with oxen and then moving to steam tractors, the company finally settled on a narrow gauge railway for retrieving rough-cut lumber and logs from its forest operations. By the 50s, it had moved on to logging trucks.
A couple of decades after Caldor was established, Diamond Lime set up business by opening a quarry two miles east of Diamond and a processing plant on the edge of town. The lime was so pure that a block of it was used in the Washington Monument.
This was pretty much how things were when the Mekemsons arrived at the end of World War II. Next blog… the Mekemson/Bray gang terrorizes Diamond Springs.